If you Google the word ‘Beadle’ you can get a number of descriptions of the word. Wikipedia gives a good example of the different types of Beadle and their origins. The earliest version is that of a Roman Temple official. This role developed into medieval Parish Bedels (early churchwardens). Aldermen appointed Ward Beadles to act as Constables for the 25 Wards within the City, carrying a staff of office and wearing the familiar uniforms that we still see today.
As early as the 12th Century, when the Livery Companies were forming to control the various trades within the City, they appointed Beadles to act as a central point of contact within each Company. Clerks were not appointed until much later. The Beadle took care of the Company’s meeting place, called the Court or Livery together on behalf of the Master and enforced any disciplinary measures decided by the Court. He was also responsible for recruiting potential Apprentices and carried a staff of office or stave to protect the Master and Wardens and to keep order amongst the Apprentices. They were also keepers of Ceremony and tradition. At that time members wore tabards depicting their trade known as their Livery. Nowadays, it is normally only the Master & Wardens who wear coloured gowns within each Livery Company.
Every Beadle’s gown is different, depicting the Company Colours so that when all the Companies are called to gather by Order of The Lord Mayor, Common Hall or United Guilds Service, the Company members can recognise their own Beadle by his gown.
Today the Beadle continues to act as the omnipresent coordinator, producing the necessary gowns and regalia for the various events, on behalf of the Master; organising receiving lines, Toasts, and ensuring the smooth running of every event.
Apart from the above, the 43 Hall Beadles are employed full time to ensure the smooth running of all events within their Halls.
Until twenty years ago most Beadles were recruited from senior NCOs and Warrant Officers retiring from the Armed Forces. Nowadays they come from all walks of life, but they soon learn that their main role is to maintain the traditions and decorum of the Ceremonies.
As my retirement approached, at age 65, as Beadle to The Worshipful Company of Skinners, I was interviewed for an article in the Company’s Annual Report.
Q How long have you been Beadle ?
A Since April 1984, 25 years, having completed 25 years service in the Royal Artillery.
Q Did you know anything about Livery Companies when you applied for the post ?
A No. When I saw the advert for ”Beadle to a Livery Company” I thought it was something to do with horses!
Q Has the role changed at all over that time?
A Yes. Nearly all Companies with Halls now let them out commercially which was not the case before the property crash known as “Black October” in 1987. I was given the task of controlling Loan Hall activity which is now a turnover of about £300,000.
The Beadles had a good network on the various caterers and clients.
Q If you had to sum up what is special about Skinners among The Great Twelve Companies, what would it be?
A The Skinners are not the richest Company financially, but they do have a very good esprit de corps. The Hall has been described as a big country house in the middle of town. Which is a good marketing ploy!
Q What are the most difficult tasks that a Beadle has to perform?
A If the Beadle is the point of contact for the membership of the Company, trying to encourage the members to keep you up to date with their current details – especially their E Mail addresses!
Q What’s the best thing about being a Beadle?
A Responding to the warmth, friendship and enthusiasm of the members, especially when they have enjoyed a good function! Meeting up with my fellow Beadles on ceremonial and social occasions.
Q And the worst ?
A The long hours. When I moved into the Hall on the retirement of the Hallkeeper, I did not appreciate what the expression “living over the job” entailed. Especially when the Intruder Alarms go off in the middle of the night on Christmas Day!
Q Are you still in touch with any of your Army colleagues ?
A I do still attend Regimental reunions, although less and less of comrades are there. Ironically, The Master in my final year at Skinners, was apprenticed to The Master who appointed me as Beadle, Colonel Tom Langton who was instrumental in founding the Commandos during WW2. He must have also had an influence on his Apprentice, now Major General John Moore-Bick CBE, who also joined the Commandos as a young Lieutenant. We discovered that our paths also crossed when we were both serving with 45 Commando Royal Marines in Arbroath, during tours of Northern Ireland and Arctic Warfare Training in Norway. Small world!
Q As a Founding Member of The Beadle’s Guild, are there any special duties that go with this distinction?
A Since helping to found the Guild in April 1992 and having held the offices of Secretary, Treasurer and Chairman of the Guild, I have been pleased to assist any new Beadle with any questions that I may be able to answer. I also get to wear a splendid badge on occasions, an honour that I share with my other founding members. Only three of us now remain as serving Beadles.
Q Have you enjoyed your time as Beadle to The Skinners’ Company?
A Very much so. During my time in the Army I was proud to be a member of my Regiment, similarly, I was proud to be Beadle to a member of The Great Twelve. So much so that I am now proud to be Beadle to The Fan Makers’ Company and The Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders of The City of London.
I have also been inspired by the traditions and history of the City and became a qualified City of London Guide, as part of my third career, with my wife, Barbara.